Yes. The way #teachers are compensated is archaic

In an article published today in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Emily Lembeck, superintendent of the 8,000-student City of Marietta school district, was quoted as observing that the system’s teacher compensation system is “archaic.”  Ms. Lembeck believes that pay based on effectiveness would allow higher salaries for deserving teachers earlier in their careers.

According to the article, Ms. Lembeck may be in for some push back from a major teaching union on her pay-for-performance preference.  The American Federation of Teachers is against pay for performance, arguing that other factors i.e. problems at home, interfere with a teacher’s ability to deliver education.

I, like most of you, personally know a number of teachers.  While they are dedicated to teaching kids, their frustration with administrations and students floats to the top of conversations we hold with them when discussing their vocation, pay, and retirements.  Teachers are correct that they do not engage their students in a vacuum.  Factors at home do have an impact on a child’s demeanor and ability to absorb information while in the classroom.  If a child isn’t eating well at home, it will be hard for them to concentrate and make good grades.

But can teachers hide behind this excuse when they are evaluated for next budget year’s compensation?  Their push for pay based on seniority is non-economical and needs to reflect some outside the box thinking.  For example, why not pay teachers their opportunity costs for being in the classroom?  Given their experience and the transferability of their skills, school boards should start paying competitive rates based on where the individual teacher could go.  This means that we shouldn’t expect all first year teachers to receive the same pay.

It also means we can bring some competition into the public school classroom.  As teachers earn advanced degrees and rack up years of experience, they can put a little space between themselves and the other teacher down the hall.

Seniority won’t cut it.  Paying a teacher because they had a good pair of ear plugs for 25 years doesn’t give schools or students competent teachers.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
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One Response to Yes. The way #teachers are compensated is archaic

  1. Kenneth Ciszewski says:

    Seniority alone isn’t necessarily a measure of competence, so using it as criteria for pay may not be the best idea. And of course, there is no absolute requirement to pay all new employees in any industry the same salary the first year they are employed.

    On the other hand, finding a fair and reasonable way to measure teaching performance has so far been elusive, for many of the factors Alton Drew cites in this post. Even evaluating the future potential of new teachers in an attempt to decide what to pay them is at best a magic crystal ball effort. However, I have heard a couple of administrators say that, within 1-2 years, it’s possible to know whether a particular teacher is presently successful and will be successful in the longer term. Unfortunately, most administrators won’t do the necessary coaching, mentoring, and guiding of teachers who aren’t quite up to snuff early on to either help them be more successful or help them find employment elsewhere, so to speak. I think that is how we get teachers with seniority or tenure that aren’t competent. Management (administration) needs to do its job to help teachers continue to develop and get better, or help them get out of the profession. Maybe all new teachers should be on two years “probation” with structured reviews done twice a year with clear information on where they need to improve. Pairing new teachers with more experienced teachers as their mentors would also help. Competent teachers can give new teachers good advice and practical guidance.

    And then there’s that “…introduce competition…’ thing. Until we can come up with a fair and meaningful way to evaluate teachers, having them compete is pretty meaningless and useless. Competition often does as much harm and good, and doesn’t always help people meet useful objectives. If we want people to work together, which I think it would be good for teachers and administrators to do, putting them in competition with one another will not foster that kind of cooperation.

    Now, if teachers are doing “the right things” (using what are considered effective teaching methods), and some of the students still aren’t learning, then we need to take a look at the students to see what else needs to be done to help them. Again, management (administration) needs to be involved to bring additional help and resources to the table. Some children need a lot more one-on-one time to help them learn. Some have other issues that need to be addressed. School boards need to be on board with providing additional resource when necessary. And of course, an ugly truth, not every student is going to do well in school. Some students’ abilities are simply not up to it, and some aren’t interested in being there! You can lead a student to education, but you can’t make the student learn. You can encourage, help, mentor, guide, whatever, but in some cases students don’t or can’t learn some things. We need to learn to deal with that as well, rather than blaming teachers, schools, yea, whole school districts when this kind of thing occurs.

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